DSDM: The Oft-Ignored Agile Answer

“Why don’t Americans use DSDM?” As a significant percentage of my reader base comes from outside of North America, and has been exposed to a variety of different cultures and standards (both in the workplace and the outside world), it is not uncommon for me to end up in discussions like this with people offline, or during mentoring sessions.  It is a funny question, because in truth there isn’t a great reason; just a few small ones, plus inertia, and possibly the fact that DSDM doesn’t have “good press” here like Scrum and XP do.

DSDM is often described as “Europe’s answer to Scrum” or “the product of the European version of the Agile summit.” I get that – there’s some good truth there, although I lean more towards the second explanation than the first.  For one thing, I agree with others who feel that DSDM and Scrum have fundamentally different areas of concern (namely, DSDM is project-oriented, while Scrum and XP are product-oriented). Along with that, though, comes a different viewpoint, and a different set of values and practices that are intended to meet the same kinds of goals as any agile methodology.  Considering Scrum, XP, and DSDM together – not the only agile methodologies by any means, but a good place to start – it is clear that each has an area in which it excels. XP is fantastic at technical excellence and engineering practices. Scrum has product/delivery expertise, and DSDM is  all about embracing agile in the context of a formalized project setting. A good comparison chart that paints this picture is here.

Frankly, I think that a lot of the reason that DSDM hasn’t caught on in North America is the widespread prevalence and marketing of Scrum in the business world, and XP in the development one. Already, when you say “agile” to a North American,  one of those two are bound to come to mind, and the various strengths and weaknesses that come along with them color people’s interpretations about what agile really is and is not. Another significant factor is the lack of openness that has historically been a part of DSDM – while it has become easier to gain information about DSDM and put it into practice, it used to be regarded almost as a secret you had to earn your way to receiving (“earn” perhaps being a euphemism for “buy”).  I’m very happy that DSDM knowledge is becoming more widespread, and I think that it has a lot to offer in the US and nearby countries that people don’t realize.

As an example, one of the complaints I often hear in corporate environments is about the difficulties of dealing with formality and regulation in an agile setting (mostly meaning “a Scrum one”). This is a topic I’ve talked about before, and I do feel that there are good ways to solve this with Scrum. However, DSDM is a great option for such a large-scale corporate environment, because it fits fantastically well into the corner of formality with flexibility. Many people often worry about certifications or external qualifications. DSDM works great with PRINCE2, and even PMI. It gives a more familiar way for many customers to handle risks, manage requirements and stakeholders, and deal with uncertainty.

I would say that in a lot of cases, DSDM might be the best “gateway” agile methodology to try. It is agile, but also a little less revolutionary – it doesn’t require an entire organization to change its strategy, hierarchy, and working model. DSDM can be combined, to an extent, with Scrum, and almost entirely with XP as well, and perhaps over time the comfortable organization may choose to replace it entirely with one of the alternative agile methodologies, but I think it is a great place to start. Here’s one of the times when we need to look to Europe, and to be guided by their expertise and experience as much as they have been by ours.


  1. Well said.

    I’m often disappointed with the polarising debate between Waterfall and Agile. The conversations too often become a plain either/or debate where one methodology is thought to be better than the other. Having running many projects using a variety of methodologies I can say with some confidence that there is no single right answer. There is no one size fits all. For digital projects, Agile has some real advantages but there are certainly shortfalls, especially when working in more process oriented organisations. Agile with an added element of structure, control and governance can the the best way to go and DSDM is a good option if the more hardcore agile approaches are not suitable.

    It’s good to find others that realise that it more important to be agile than it is to do agile.

    btw – I’m based in Europe.

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